There isn’t a lot that baseball fans universally agree on. But if there was ever something to agree on, it’s that Mike Trout is the best player in the game. Even though most people believe that Trout will end his career as one of the top 5 players of all time, that’s not who I’m referring to right now. Most people are aware of the greatness they’re seeing, but they probably don’t realize the extent of what is happening.
Francisco Lindor will end his career as a top 3 shortstops of all time.
Before you stop reading, let me make my elevator pitch. First of all, shortstop is a historically weak position. Considering that Alex Rodriguez was a shortstop for only about half of his career, I don’t find his merits as a shortstop worthy of being considered top 3 all time. There just isn’t enough sample size there. Ernie Banks might be another name to come up, but he actually played more games as a first baseman than he did as a shortstop (1,259 to 1,125). That realistically leaves Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, and Ozzie Smith as the biggest competition among the top shortstops ever. George Davis is 4th all-time in bWAR amongst shortstops, but he retired in 1909 so I consider him as part of a different era. I know Wagner retired in 1917, but he’s still Honus Wagner.
First of all, let’s dissect the competition, starting with Jeter and Ozzie. Derek Jeter is known as one of the premier offensive shortstops of all time, and Ozzie is largely recognized as the best defensive shortstop ever (for now, Andrelton Simmons is coming). What Jeter lacked in his defense, Ozzie lacked in offense. If prime Ozzie Smith and prime Derek Jeter were to somehow undergo reverse mitosis and form into one mega human, they would probably be the best player that ever lived. Fortunately, that monstrosity of a human being would never have to become a reality, and we are left with the defensively challenged Jeter and the slap-hitting Ozzie. It’s not to say that there’s anything particularly wrong with either player, it’s just that Lindor is better than both of them. Lindor brings more to the plate than Jeter, and they aren’t even on the same plane of existence on defense. Derek Jeter finished his career with a career average of a 119 WRC+. As of now, Francisco Lindor has a career 120 WRC+.
I know, I know. Francisco Lindor has played 3 and a half seasons. Jeter played in parts of 20 seasons. However, Lindor already has far more power upside than Jeter ever did. He has hit 33 and 38 home runs in the past two seasons, while Jeter never had a season over 24. If you average out Jeter’s oWAR per season, he had about 4.815 per season. Lindor is currently averaging 4.725 oWAR per season. So while currently marginally better than Lindor in terms of offensive metrics, Lindor has displayed elite level power that Jeter never had (and made Matt Vasgersian yell more than Jeter ever could), and is also one of the premier defenders at the position; something Jeter could never claim in his career. A widely known fact, Derek Jeter ranks last of all time by the metric of DRS with -140. Lindor, on the other hand, has a career 46 DRS to this point. Even at this early stage of his career, Lindor is already significantly better as an overall player than Jeter ever was.
And now to Ozzie. A remarkable defender, one trick that “The Wizard” could never master was how to make his bat work. A career .666 OPS is really all I should have to say on why Lindor is/will be better, but since I’m already writing this I might as well give you some more. Ozzie Smith hit 28 home runs in his 19 year career. Francisco Lindor hit 38 home runs last season. Lindor’s career on base percentage of .350 is 28 points higher than Ozzie’s career slugging percentage of .328. No amount of defense from Ozzie will ever make up how badly Lindor beats him on offense. Trying to argue Ozzie over Lindor would be like trying to argue Friends over The Office. One very clearly does not belong in the same class as the other.
Now that the easier competition is out of the way, let’s begin the gauntlet. First challenger: Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken is one of the most prolific power hitters among all shortstops and was also fairly durable during his career. Ripken almost seemed like he never missed a game (he played 2,632 straight games. Nobody does that.) His offense is not to be outdone by his defense, as his career 35.7 dWAR cements his status as one of the better all-around shortstops of all time. To compare in his short career, Lindor already has one more 30 homer season than Ripken did. His career 119 OPS+, as well as his .837 OPS, compare very favorably to Ripken (112, .788). And in terms of defense, the only thing Ripken has over Lindor is Gold Gloves. While Lindor is an outstanding shortstop, he happens to play in the same league as the defensive representation of God in Andrelton Simmons, and there realistically should be no reason for Simmons to not win the Gold Glove every season. That isn’t to knock Lindor; his dWAR average per season still rates higher than Ripken. I honestly don’t know why I’ve brought up Simmons twice in a Lindor based article but here’s a beautiful videoto make up for it.
In terms of bWAR, Lindor is averaging just under 6 per season. Only 24 years old, it’s fairly reasonable to expect Lindor to play another 13 or so seasons, and given the fluctuation he’ll see in his WAR during his peak and decline, it’s also reasonable to believe he’ll be able to keep that average of 6, maybe a little above. Another 13 years of 6 bWAR
Realistically, Lindor will never surpass Honus Wagner in terms of greatness. Wagner is among that legendary elite of early 20th century players whose legacy will live forever. A 130 career WAR, 3420 career hits, 723 steals, and 8 batting titles (including 4 in a row) will certainly back up that legacy. I consider Wagner to be the gold standard for all shortstops. As of this day, I consider Cal Ripken Jr. to be the #2 to Honus. In the near future, Francisco Lindor will crack that top 3.
To reiterate, while I think Lindor is a fantastic player and a generational talent, this argument is not entirely talent based. He has been presented with a unique opportunity at a position that has not truly seen the levels of otherworldly talent that others have, and that opportunity mixed with his talent makes him the perfect candidate to achieve legendary status.
Featured Photo: Erik Drost/Flickr